Elizabeth Bishop Misc. What is in the poems
Vassar Influences • Her Favorite poet during her college years was W.H. Auden • Her early work reflected the revolutionary effects of the time as a crisis, of knowledge, of signification and the questioning of meaning itself. • Popular poetic topic of the 1930’s trendsetters.
Vassar Influences • “Paris at 7 a.m. “ has metaphorized into obscurity, “The Map” makes these points clear. • The relationship between art and life, form and history (see Auden’s Musee Des Beaux Arts).
Poetic Example: Paris 7 A.M • I make a trip to each clock in the apartment Some hands point histrionically one way and some point others, from ignorant faces Time is an Etoile; the hours diverge (Bishop, lns 1-4) pg. 26
Poetic Example: The Map • Land lies in water; it is shadowed green. Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges Showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges where weeds hang to the simple blue from green. (Bishop lns 1-4) pg. 3
More History and Art • Bishop did occasionally let the historical come into her art but not the overtly political. Which is why many of the poetic movements have trouble completely claiming her as their own (if they include a political element but Confessionism does not so…). She did write about what affected her emotionally and part of that was the Great depression.
More History and Art • She had family who experienced poverty during the depression and this bothered her deeply. Some poets write entirely about political poems and still others, more discreetly and only upon occasion; this was Bishop. • She considered in interviews, her poem “A Miracle for Breakfast,” to be her depression poem.
Poetic Example: A Miracle for Breakfast • A servant handed him the makings of a miracle, consisting of one lone cup of coffee And one roll, which he proceeded to crumb, His head so to speak, in the clouds—along with the sun. (Bishop, lns 15-18) pgs. 18
A Miracle For Breakfast • This poem has almost a religious connotation to it as well, because there is a simplicity to the images along with the repetition of the words and images that a sestina sometimes requires. • Clear some of Herbert’s influence
George Herbert • AFFLICTION. (I) (stanzas 1-4) • WHEN first Thou didst entice to Thee my heart, I thought the service brave :So many joys I writ down for my part, Besides what I might have Out of my stock of naturall delights, Augmented with Thy gracious benefits. I lookèd on Thy furniture so fine, And made it fine to me ;Thy glorious household stuff did me entwine, And 'tice me unto Thee. Such stars I counted mine : both heaven and earth Paid me my wages in a world of mirth.
George Herbert • What pleasures could I want, whose King I served, Where joys my fellows were ? Thus argued into hopes, my thoughts reserved No place for grief or fear ;Therefore my sudden soul caught at the place, And made her youth and fierceness seek Thy face :At first thou gavest me milk and sweetnesses ; I had my wish and way :My days were strewed with flowers and happiness : There was no month but May. But with my years sorrow did twist and grow, And made a party unawares for woe. Source:Herbert, George. The Works of George Herbert in Prose and Verse.New York: John Wurtele Lovell, 1881. 128-130.
Paradoxes • Even her poems that seem to be flat out love poems, aren’t love poems. • Her poem, “Love Lies Sleeping,” first published in the Partisan Review in 1938, is really about the dangers of modern technology, how painful the city can be and the issues with the industrial workplace.
Poetic Example: Love Lies Sleeping • down the gray avenue between the eyes in pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs. Hang-over moons, wane, wane! From the window I see an immense city, carefully revealed, Made delicate by over-workmanship, detail upon detail cornice upon façade (Bishop, lns 9-16) pg. 16
Bishop and Herbert • This is consistent with Herbert again in a couple of ways, the line breaks and the feeling that nature is more important than city life. • Rural ideas will be far more important than anything else.
Bishop and Herbert • This is consistent with Herbert again in a couple of ways, the line breaks and the feeling that nature is more important than city life. • Rural ideas will be far more important than anything else. • Despite being raised in cosmopolitan environments, she hated the shock of the big city. • Mixture of a coupling of capitalism and consumption—lovers of all kinds---she abhors and fears this just as Herbert abhorred and fears not being right with God.
Poetic Example: Varick Street • At night the factories struggle awake, wretched uneasy building veined with pipes attempt their work. And I shall sell you sell you Sell you of course, my dear and you’ll sell me. (Bishop lns 1-5 and 10-11) pg. 75
Formal Experiments Part One • When Bishop moved to Key West, she began to work with form in more unusual ways. Before this she followed the form or in the case of a couple of poems we’ve seen, imitated Herbert. Now, Key West and it’s multicultural and multi class environment, influenced her to try new things. This would include nursery rhymes, sonnets, etc…
Poetic Example: The Monument • Now can you see the monument? It is of wood build somewhat like a box. No. Built like several boxes in descending sizes. one above the other. (Bishop, lines 1-4) pg. 23
Bishop Bids Farewell to Key West • When Key West became an a place for activity for World War II, she left and traveled some more. While she wasn’t overtly political (everything she does is far more subtle which is where her brilliance lies), she did occasionally write a political poem.
Poetic Example: Roosters • With stupid eyes while from their beaks there rise the uncontrolled, traditional cries. Deep from protruding chests in green-gold medals dressed, planned to command and terrorize the rest, (Bishop, lns 19-24) pg. 35)
Alternate Interpretations • Still, others feel this poem is a “coming out” poem of Bishops if heavily veiled in metaphor. • Challenging the conventions of the heterosexuality. • It also is angry at the assumptions made upon her sexuality by society. • The speaker is angry at the imposition of the “rooster” “Cock” or “phallus” into her life and onto her sexuality.
Jazz and Other Experiments • Bishop befriended the famous bisexual singer, Billie Holiday and because experimenting not only with her own sexuality, but also with jazz rhythms, female subjectivity, and language in her poems.
Poetic Example: Songs For A Colored Singer • I say, “Le Roy, just how much are we owing? Something I can’t comprehend, the more we got the more spend…” He only answers, “Let’s get going.” (Bishop, lns 9-12) pg. 47
Brazil: 17 Year Stop Over • In Brazil Bishop found her muse, but also the conditions necessary to write peacefully. She felt like this was home for the first time in her life and this worked out itself in her poems. Not in a confessionist way, but in a way that she adopted the people as her own and in the way, she embraced her muse.
Poetic Example: Manuelzinho • Half squatter, half tenant (no rent)— a sort of inheritance, white, in your thirties now, and supposed to supply me with vegetables, but you don’t; or you won’t; or you can’t (Bishop, lns. 1-5) pg. 96
Brazil • What is interesting is this poem is through the voice of “a friend of the writer” and it’s not always complimentary. Bishop was aware of people’s flaws and also what was aware of what made good poetry. It didn’t need to be sentimental to write about someone you loved.
Confessionism • Her next phrase is adding the extremely personal in her poems and this comes for two main reasons in my opinion—the end of her long relationship with Ms. Soares as well as the entering her senior years and her increasing dependence on Robert Lowell for friendship.
Poetic Example: Crusoe In England • I often gave way to self pity, “Do I deserve this? I suppose I must.” “I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there a moment when I actually choose this? I don’t remember, but there could have been.”